Morris school districts benefit from shared services

Although Morris has four school districts, we do not exist as islands. On the contrary, we have a long history of examining ways to share services.

The benefit of shared services is that each school district can realize tremendous savings in some areas while maintaining independence when it makes sense to do so. Some of that sharing also occurs with the Grundy Area Vocational Center and the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative.

As an example, Morris Elementary District 54, Saratoga District 60C and Morris Community High School District 101 share transportation service. That sharing saved our districts more than $1.5 million last year, compared to what we would have had to pay to contract with a bus company. This is based on per-mile rates that came in at just over half of what some area districts pay. Much credit is due to Saratoga Superintendent Kathy Perry for her expertise in this important area, which is often a challenge in districts of any size.

Technology is another area where we have developed partnerships with each other, sharing key personnel in order to streamline services, benefit from purchasing agreements and support one another. Our technology director, JD Morrison, has been employed with us for eleven years, and through shared agreements, several local districts and organizations benefit from his outstanding contributions to this ever-changing field. Through his leadership, we continue to examine future opportunities for partnerships and growth. This is a huge undertaking for school districts that encompasses instructional technology, school safety and database management, among other things. As the demand continues to grow, we must do our best to stay current.

To be fair, shared services do not always work well for each participant. There are times when each building needs its own personnel on site for certain tasks or prefers to choose its own provider for a particular service. We still reap the benefits of communication by discussing such matters and thinking outside the box. Sometimes, it makes sense for two of the districts to share a service, for instance, while the others function independently in that area.

Another way that we save money is, of course, through the generous contributions of individuals and organizations who donate to our school. The scope of our upcoming auditorium and stadium projects and our investment in enhanced emergency response provide an opportunity for me to respond to questions I receive from community members.

People have asked me if they can still donate to these projects, and the answer is of course you can! Some have indicated previously that they did not want to donate until they knew that these projects were going to happen. Well, they are happening, and it is never too soon or too late to donate. Any donation you make allows us to reduce the expense of borrowing and to address unanticipated expenses that come up with any renovation project.

As a donor, you can always target your donation toward a specific project, department or initiative. You can be as specific or as general as you wish – it is your money, after all. I can also discuss with you how your donation can be tax-deductible.

As a final reminder, our 5Essentials survey remains open through Feb. 14, so if you are a parent of an MCHS student but have not yet had a chance to respond, please visit survey.5-essentials.org/illinois to offer your feedback.

I know we are all inundated with surveys, but your input matters a great deal to us and will help our district to improve its services. Thank you for all that you do to support our local schools.

• Dr. Craig R. Ortiz is the Superintendent of Morris Community High School District 101